Last week, I expected this game to be a wire-to-wire blowout: Blaine Gabbert is bad at football, the 49ers have nothing to play for, the Cardinals have a ton of swagger, etc., etc. There was a shadow of doubt that the Cards could totally no-show, but that was it.
After the tryptophan wore off, I had another thought: Maybe this is a “Milton Berle Game.” It was hard not to get nervous Sunday as the Cards were consistently bullied on both sides of the ball, and this game was close enough, late enough that too much was in the hands of chance. That said, a win is a win, and while the Cards didn’t burn down the 49ers franchise as we’d hoped, we’re on to St. Louis.
While his fantasy owners were likely disappointed, and a touchdown catch slipped through his fingers, Fitzgerald was also the calm on an otherwise stormy game. He was the consistent go-to target on third downs.
The rookie from UNI didn’t burn up the stat page (8 rushes, 21 yards, 1 TD; 2 receptions for 8 yards). What he did do was step in and provide consistent yardage at the end of the game and provide a physical presence that no one other than Fitzgerald was able to create.
Smoke averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and re-established himself as the Cards’ zone-buster in the middle of the field. The entirety of this offense keys on Brown’s ability to push the defensive secondary backward.
It was remarkable during yesterday’s broadcast how Ronde Barber alluded to Bruce Arians’ thinking Andre Ellington is soft. Arians was ready to put that out there about a back that he challenged to be a 20-carry guy. Ellington is a part-time gadget player, and we should remember that 10 touches a game is his ceiling.
Bettcher had no answer for the bigger, more physical lineup that the 49ers brought to bear. It’ll be interesting to see whether San Francisco has created a blueprint for stymieing the Cardinals defense — if you have enough big guys to overwhelm the multi-defensive back lineup, you can impose your will.
The offensive line looked poor against a mediocre group of 49er defensive linemen. Larsen, Sendlein, and Iupati were unable to create push up the middle, and it was interesting that the pull and trap game wasn’t used often except in pass protection.